The addictive-like use of social networking sites like Facebook might be a risk factor for impaired sexual function, according to new research published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine. The study provides evidence that frequent and compulsive use of social media is linked to a number of sexual problems among both women and men.
“There is a growing awareness that the use of social media can acquire the characteristics of an addiction; when this happens, social media may worsen mood,” said study author Rui Miguel Costa of the William James Center for Research at Ispa – Instituto Universitário in Portugal.
“Given that negative mood is associated with sexual difficulties, I was surprised with the lack of studies examining if social media addiction is related to sexual difficulties. To the best of my knowledge, one single study by Alimoradi and colleagues (2019) had suggested that more addictive use of social media may have adverse effects on female sexual function. Thus, I decided to study if social media addiction is related to sexual difficulties in women and men.”
For their study, the researchers analyzed data from 946 women and 235 men who completed assessments of sexual function and problematic use of smartphones, and 536 women and 194 men who completed assessments of sexual function and problematic use of social networking sites. The participants had all been sexually active with opposite-sex partners within the past month.
To measure problematic use of social networking sites, the participants responded to a series of questions such as “Do you neglect household chores to spend more time on social networking sites?”, “Do others in your life complain to you about the amount of time you spend online?”, and “Does your job performance or productivity suffer because of staying on social networking sites?”
The researchers found that problematic use of social networking sites was associated with sexual distress and poorer sexual functioning. Among women, problematic use of social networking sites was associated with lower sexual arousal, difficulties lubricating, difficulties having orgasms, sexual dissatisfaction, coital pain, and greater sexual distress. Among men, on the other hand, problematic use of social networking sites was associated with lower erectile function, lower desire, intercourse dissatisfaction, overall sexual dissatisfaction, and more difficulties having orgasms.
Problematic smartphone use was also associated with sexual distress and poorer sexual functioning. However, these relationships mostly disappeared after the researchers controlled for problematic use of social networking sites. “Thus, it seems to be the addictive-like use of [social networking sites] that is mostly associated with diminished sexual function, not the addictive-like use of smartphones per se,” the researchers said.
“It is beneficial to reduce the use of social media, if it often interferes with daily activities, work, sleep, personal relationships, or face-to-face social interactions, more generally,” Costa told PsyPost. “It is also beneficial to reduce the use of social media or at least change the pattern of use, if social media often elicit negative emotions, like anger, envy, disappointment, loneliness, or a sense of estrangement. These are possible processes by which social media worsen mood and sexual function: we need more research about these issues.”
But it is also possible that sexual dysfunction increases vulnerability to problematic use of social networking sites
“The study is correlational; therefore, we need to be cautious regarding the causal inferences,” Costa explained. “Some experimental studies show that, for more problematic users of social media, reducing its use is beneficial for mood. Now, more experimental studies are needed to test if sexual function is improved by spending less time on social media or by avoiding negative emotions that social media can trigger. We also need more knowledge about the processes that explain why social media addiction is associated with sexual difficulties.”
Previous research has found that problematic use of social networking sites is linked to reduced intimacy and lower levels of perceived social support, which in turn is associated with greater sexual distress.
“Ironically, using social media very frequently might make one feel more isolated from others, sometimes from the partner,” Costa said. “If one feels emotionally distanced from the partner, sexual function is more likely to be impaired.”
The study, “Sexual Function and Problematic Use of Smartphones and Social Networking Sites“, was authored by Vanessa Fuzeiro, Catarina Martins, Catia Goncalves, Ana Rolos Santos, and Rui Miguel Costa.